The Trojan Women (1971)
Director: Michael Cacoyannis
Starring: Katharine Hepburn (Hecuba), Vanessa Redgrave (Andromache), Geneviève Bujold (Cassandra), Irene Papas (Helen), Patrick Magee (Menelaus), Brian Blessed (Talthybius), Alberto Sanz (Astyanax).
Country: Greek - U.S. film
This is the Greek play write Euripides's story of the plight of the Trojan women after their army is defeated.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
The Greeks are leading a group of Trojan Women. Soldiers rush up to them, grab their children and off they go with them. The women are crying and screaming.
The Greeks looked east and wondered what they were going to do about the threat posed by these foreigners (Trojans). So when Helen fled with Paris to Troy, the Greeks were ready psychologically for war.
Queen Hecuba has lost her husband and all her children. She awakens in the morning and says: "This is no longer Troy." She starts to take a walk, but sees that the Greek soldiers will stop her, so she stays put. She shouts at the Greeks asking them why they came here? For a mere woman? "A thing of loathing, of shame. She slew Priam the king, the father of all my sons. She ripped me upon the leaf of destruction." She says now she is but a slave "that men drive on".
She talks to a group of women of Troy saying: "See, only smoke left, where was Troy. Let us weep for her." The women have come to her because they are scared, and want to hear from her what their fate will be. They wonder if the Greeks will take them to their homes?
A herald named Talthybius tells Hecuba that each woman will be taken by one man. It was decided by lots. Hecuba asks who drew her daughter Cassandra? Talthybius says Agamemnon took her for his bed. He tells her: "Well, now, a king's bed is not so bad." Hecuba asks about her other daughter and Talthybius says at least "she's free from trouble."
A group of soldiers arrives in wagons. Hecuba asks about Hector's wife Andromache and Talthybius tells her she was taken by Achilles's son. She was caught trying to escape with her son. And what about herself? She will be the slave of the King of Ithaca, Odysseus. She becomes very upset and screams: "Pity me, women of Troy!" The women start panicking and the soldiers have to jump off the wagons to corral them.
Talthybius orders Cassandra to be brought here, but apparently she has escaped. The herald tells his men to find her now, but it is Hecuba who finds her in a cave. She explains to the herald that her daughter has lost her mind. Cassandra speaks of the loss of Troy and her father dead. She runs out another entrance/exit and the Greeks chase her. Cassandra is a virgin devoted to the gods, but now she cries out about the shame of being driven to the bed of a stranger.
Hecuba asks Cassandra to give her the torch she carries. She lets the torch go. Suddenly, Cassandra switches her tune as she asks her mother to be glad for she is to be married to a king. She asks her mother to send her to her king. Then she says she will kill Agamemnon for how he made her father and brothers suffer, but then says she won't think about that.
Cassandra keeps talking and talking. She tells her mother that her son Hector died a hero. "So mother, do not pity Troy or me upon my bridal bed." Talthybius says the women have to move to the ships now. As they get closer to the ships, Talthybius tells Hecuba to stay here with the other wise women and wait for other Greek soldiers. Other women are placed in carts and taken elsewhere. Talthybius escorts Cassandra to a small wagon. Cassandra goes on another rant. She says goodbye to Troy, her brothers and father.
Hecuba sinks down on the stairs. She sits and talks about her good sons and husband. She saw them die. And now she is an old, gray woman. The women help her up, but she asks them: "Why lift me up? What hope is there to hold to?" As she walks up the steps, she turns to say: "Count no man fortunate before he dies."
The women start talking about bringing the wooden horse into their fortress and the unforeseen consequences of this action. And now they shall bear children for the Greeks to rear.
Guards push Andromache to the ground. Near her she sees a woman's dead body. It's her sister-in-law. She takes off her outer garment to drape over the body. Then they drive her and her son away. She and her son are brought to Hecuba and the wise women. Hecuba and Andromache both talk about how great their pain is over the loss of the son and the husband, respectively. Hecuba says that the Greeks have taken Cassandra from her. Andromache says: "I still mourn for you, more than that." Her other daughter lies dead on Achilles's tomb, a gift to a corpse of a lifeless thing. She covered her dead body with her cloak. Andromache says that her sister-in-law is better off than she who still lives. She cries out for Hector!
Hecuba says: "So in my many sorrows, I yield." She encourages her daughter-in-law to go on and raise her child to manhood so that one day he might help in raising Troy into a city again.
Talthybius arrives. He speaks to Andromache. He tells her: "Do not hate me. Against my will I come to tell you." They have ordered the death of her son. Now Andromache screams as loud as she can. She tries to keep her son away from Talthybius as he chases her around. She falls down. He tells her to bear her grief as best she can. If she does not give up her son, the child shall have no burial. Andromache tells her son: "Your father was too noble. That is why they kill you." She says she didn't bear her child just so the Greeks could slay him, but to be King of the World.
Cassanddra finally shoves the boy away. "The gods have destroyed me and I cannot save my child from death." She falls to the ground. The boy tries to get her up, but she does not move. Talthybius gives the order to take the boy. A soldier takes the boy up into the remains of Troy.
A soldier pokes Andromache with the blunt end of his spear and she slowly gets up. She looks around for her boy, but does not see him. She gets on the wagon and away it goes.
Water is brought to the guards and poured into shallow pans. The Trojan women try to get at the water, but they are stopped from doing so. They watch as Helen, kept in confinement, asks for water and the guard pushes the pan to her. She slides the pan under the wood frame, takes off her robes and kneels in the pan of water. (Brief nudity.) She is going to take a bath in the water. This infuriates the other women and they scream at and curse her. They start picking up stones and throwing them against the wood frame in the hopes that some of the rocks will get through the wide cracks in the frame.
The guards rush over to keep the women from coming any closer to the containment structure. Suddenly, all the women in different groups join in a kind of rebellion as they break through the various corrals. A guard gets on his horse and rides to bring reinforcements. The soldiers arrive and start beating the women down with batons. It's not long before order is re-established. Menelaus, the husband of Helen, comes to see what is going on. Hecuba talks to Menelaus. He tells her: "I came to Troy and brought my armies with me, not for her sake, as people say, but for a man who from my house, and he a guest of, stole her away. Ah, well, with god's help he has paid the price. He and his country fallen."
Menelaus has come here to either kill Helen or take her back to Greece. Hecuba tells him to kill her. And he must not look upon her for desire for her will conquer him. "Fire comes from her that burns homes." Menelaus yells to a guard to drag Helen out. The women start screaming again to kill her. The guards hold the women back. Helen comes to Menelaus, but he averts his eyes from her. She tells him that she knows that he hates her, but still she asks him: "What is your decision? . . . Am I to live or not?" She says that she has been wronged, that she is innocent. Menelaus says he has come to kill her, not to argue with her. But Hecuba tells him to let her speak and then let her (Hecuba) answer Helen.
Helen says Hecuba began these evils when she gave birth to her son Paris. And then Priam, the father of Paris, knowing what his son was made of, allowed him "to roam the world". When Paris came to her, he was accompanied by the goddess of love, who whispered to her promises that she would give her (Helen) to Paris. And then it was also the fault of Menelaus himself because he left Paris in his house to sail from Sparta to Crete. She asks that Aphrodite be punished, not her. She says she was abducted from Greece and this brought Greece a lot of good because they united and now are ruled by no tyrant. She also says she tried to escape, but was raped by a man who made sure she didn't escape. Helen asks if it is justice for her to die at the hands of Menelaus? "In bitterness I lived -- a slave."
The women tell Hecuba to answer the vile Helen. Hecuba says the gods will be behind her as she tells this woman she is a liar. Her son was extremely handsome and it was Helen's own desire that led her to him. She was also attracted to the prospect of gold and fame if she went with Paris. "And Menelaus was nothing to you." Helen loved to have the eastern men fall at her feet. Hecuba ends with the words: "Kill her." The women shout kill Helen.
Menelaus says he knows the women are right. And to Helen he says: "Go. Death is near. You shall not anymore dishonor me." Helen cries and kneels before him blaming the gods for what happened. But Hecuba and the women are right there to set the record straight. Menelaus says he will take Helen back to Troy and give her to be killed by those whose "dearests" died because of her. He gives the order to take her to the ships and he and two soldiers ride out.
Helen turns defiant toward the women and starts walking away from them. The women form a circle to stop her from leaving, but a guard pushes through the circle to let Helen pass.
Andromache's boy is taken to the edge of a cliff and simply shoved off the cliff edge.
Talthybius brings the dead boy to Hecuba and the women for burial. Andromache is already on a ship headed to Greece. He has brought Hector's shield that the boy might lay on it. He himself will dig the grave for the lad. Hecuba sets the boy on the shield and she grieves over the body of the boy. "Not you but I, old, homeless, childless must lay you in your grave. So young. So miserably dead." Hecuba puts her cloak over the body. The women carry the body on Hector's shield. They stop and Hecuba says: "Go, lay our dead in his poor grave."
The Greeks throw lighted torches onto the remaining buildings of Troy. Talthybius arrives and tells the women to go to the ships for embarkation. When they see the huge fires, some women want to throw themselves into the fire. Talthybius has to physically stop Hecuba from doing so. The women wail and fall to the ground. As Hecuba rises she says: "Up, up from the ground, trembling body, old, weak legs. You must carry me on to the new day of slavery." With her head held high Hecuba slowly walks in the direction of the ships.
This is not a film that is easy to watch. Essentially, it is a wail, one after another, coming up from the depths of the women of Troy who have lost their husbands, brothers and sons. Even their children are taken from them. They are indeed miserable. It's hard not to feel empathy for these poor women who now believe themselves completely abandoned by their gods. So you have to be in a strong state of mind to watch this film. The language from the play of Euripides is very good. To me it was a more understandable Shakespeare. I quoted quite a few lines from the play in the text above because the way of expressing the various feelings was so interesting. All the actresses in the main parts were terrific. Brian Blessed was also terrific as a sympathetic Talthybius who had to give the harsh commands to the women. It's a good movie, but just a bit hard to watch.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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